UNESCO conference without UNESCO
(notes of a participant -Serguei Badaev - badaev57@mtu-net.ru)
6 January 2002

In the summer of 1999 Dr Art-ong Jumsai, director of the Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE), Thailand, publicly announced that there would be a significant UNESCO conference devoted to human values education to be held in Prashanthi Nilayam.

Since 1969 the Sai Organisation has been conducting educational activity in the frame of the SSEHV programme (Sathya Sai Education in Human Values), which is aimed at character and spirituality development in children and is based on Sai Baba's teachings. In spring 2000 forms and programmes for participants were distributed to the national organisations, and every country started looking for appropriate candidates. Every country was supposed to sponsor 2 or 3 participants, non-members of the Sai Organisation. The list of VIPs, such as professors, ministers and former ministers, etc., was compiled separately.

The goal of the conference as it was publicly declared by Dr Jumsai, was to present the programme of moral and spiritual education SSEHV to the world, first of all to those who may influence decisions in the field of educational policy in their respective countries. However the official title of the conference was as follows: "Strengthening Values Education: Innovative Approaches to Teacher Education for Peace and International Understanding". It seemed that it was not quite the same idea that had been declared previously.

The conference was declared to be co-organised by UNESCO, Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE, Thailand) and the Flinders University Institute of International Education (Australia), and was scheduled for 25 till 29 September 2000 in Prashanthi Nilayam, Sai Baba's main ashram in India.

In the height of the conference preparations, a letter was distributed throughout the Sai Organisation informing readers that UNESCO and the Flinders University had withdrawn from participating in the conference. No reasons were given to explain their sudden decision. Those who were involved in inviting participants for the conference, especially VIPs, found themselves in a very awkward situation: they had to inform the candidates about UNESCO and the Flinders University withdrawals but they had no information to explain what had happened. (At the time I did not know that a letter from the UNESCO headquarters in Paris concerning this conference was posted on the Internet. This letter contained the information that UNESCO had withdrawn from the conference and was concerned about the allegation of sexual abuse involving youths and children that were levelled at Sathya Sai Baba. [1]) Quite naturally, some candidates refused to take part in the conference, and the organising committee allowed the Sai Organisation members who were involved in the SSEHV programme to join the conference so as to fill it out. As a result, about a half of the participants were members of the Sai Organisation.

During the conference, most of the speakers emphasised the point that education should lead to character development and that numerous problems of the modern world are not the result of lack of knowledge, but lack of morals and spirituality. Among the speakers were only a few people involved in SSEHV activities. None of them considered any theoretical or applied aspects of the SSEHV programme in their speeches. None of them reviewed the history of the SSEHV programme development in India and overseas, nor was the current situation with the work of the Sai Organisation in frame of the SSEHV programme analysed. No statistical data was presented. Another strange fact was that the director of the European Sathya Sai Institute (ESSE), T. Meyer, supervising this activity of the Sai Organisation in Europe, was not on the list of speakers, although he was present at the conference. [2]

As final document a declaration was adopted which emphasised the human values' significance for all spheres of human life, especially for education. This declaration was to be sent to all major international organisations, including UNESCO. Dr Jumsai prepared a draft of the declaration and, when it was distributed to participants, quite naturally, different points of view appeared in regard to formulations. The participants were told that the conference did not have had enough time to work collectively on the text of the declaration, so two alternatives were suggested: either the conference would have no final document, or all comments in written form would be directed to Dr Jumsai who would try to integrate them into the final version. The last suggestion was accepted after all and next day the final version of the declaration was distributed to all participants. [3]

It is worthy to note that the declaration says about need to establish contacts and interaction among educators involved in teaching values to promote ideas and experience exchange. In a draft of the declaration the Institute of Sathya Sai Education (Thailand) suggested to play the role of a coordinator or the Secretariat for the creation and maintaining the information exchange network. Similar proposals were announced repeatedly during the previous other seminars. Up to now such network has not been established even inside the Sai Organisation. Moreover, my non-sanctioned contacts as a national educational coordinator with other educators from different regions were forbidden by the zonal chairman T. Meyer. My requests, addressed to him, to help me to come in touch with SSEHV teachers working in Europe were left without answer.

Generally this conference did not meet the proclaimed goal. Perhaps there were some hidden goals that were not proclaimed. Some participants felt that the very presence of so many people in the holy atmosphere of the ashram and divine vibrations of Sai Baba could be considered as a great achievement. All speakers talked about the significance of human values in general terms as if someone among the audience had some doubts in this regard or had a different point of view. When I arrived back in Russia, I often found myself in an awkward situation, because many Sai Baba devotees considered this conference as a sign of some dramatic changes coming into the world at the threshold of a new millennium. I was awfully sorry at not being able to convey to them any information which could satisfy their expectations.

It is interesting to note that this conference seemed very typical for the conferences and seminars which were conducted by the Sai Organisation in Prashanthi Nilayam and abroad. Before the 2000 conference I had taken part in two seminars for teachers and teacher trainers in Prashanthi Nilayam in 1998 and 1999 as well as in a number of seminars conducted by the European ESSE Institute. Their characteristic feature is a rather low professional level. It might be connected with a fact that few people working in the SSEHV programme were professional educators. In regard to the content, all those seminars were designed as if everybody in the audience heard about the SSEHV programme for the first time. So after the first my seminar I could not learn anything new for me during those activities. At those seminars and conferences I was always surprised by the fact that we did not talk about children. Speakers often presented quotations from Sai Baba but never related to the world pedagogical heritage. It seemed that all this work was going on in a sort of a pedagogical vacuum, in a complete isolation from what had been done in this field by the humanity as a whole [4]. Sometimes I felt that the SSEHV programme was presented in such a way as if it was the only programme of spiritual and moral education in the world.

There is another very confusing detail concerning educational seminars and conferences that have been conducted in the Prashanthi Nilayam ashram. Despite of the fact that all these educational forums have been held in the ashram, where in the neighbourhood there are primary and secondary schools founded by Sai Baba, as well as the Institute of Higher Learning, deemed University, the Chancellor of which is Sai Baba himself, I know no occasion when in the frames of those seminars and conferences (including September 2000) visits to the schools or the Institute have been arranged. This is especially strange that those schools and Institute have often been implied to be educational models for the world. This point has come to my mind just recently and I wonder that it did not come earlier.

So it is clear that, although the September 2000 conference was held in the ashram Prashanthi Nilayam and Sai Baba delivered inaugural and valedictory addresses to the conference, it could not escape some very serious shortcomings. From an academic point of view it was not well-focused or informative. From a devotional point of view it made many participants, Sai Baba devotees, listen to long talks without mentioning Sai Baba or his teachings and even sometimes sacrificing their darshan time, i.e. time when they could see Sai Baba in the temple area. Obviously, this conference should be considered as a failure, because it could not meet the declared goals.

It seems that it is extremely difficult for the Sai Organisation to acknowledge its mistakes and failures. It might be a result of a literal following of Sai Baba's instruction "to see only good, to hear only good, etc." It might be also a desire to keep its reputation and save its image of an organisation which can't fail because the Lord of Lords himself is its spiritual leader.

Anyway, after all that happened to the so called UNESCO conference in September 2000, it was not quite correct for "Sanathana Sarathi" to publish that "Dr. Leonarda Jekantaite, Secretary General of UNESCO (Lithuania) presented the Keynote Address." (Sanathana Sarathi, vol. 43, October 2000, p. 317). Though she was 'Secretary-general' of the Lithuanian branch of UNESCO, she was not accredited to represent UNESCO at the conference. This she confirmed to Robert Priddy by e-mail when he had investigated the matter with UNESCO. She stated that she had been there as a private person interested in Eastern values education. Giving her full UNESCO title "Sanathana Sarathi" made readers think that she was an official UNESCO representative. This amounts to face-saving deceit.

It was also very strange and confusing to read in the inaugural speech of I. Shah, the international president of the Sathya Sai Organisation at the 7th World Conference (November 2000, Prashanthi Nilayam), the following words: "In this context, let me share with you that US magazine "Week" has chosen to give respect to the UNESCO conference held in Prasanthi Nilayam highlighting the message of Bhagawan on 'Values for All'". (20.11.2000. Materials of the 7th World Conference of the Sai Organisation). It does not matter whether the "Week" has published anything about the conference or not. The matter is that I. Shah has consciously deceived his spiritual brothers and sisters using UNESCO name for the conference, whereas UNESCO had nothing to do with it.


[1] The letter of withdrawal from UNESCO.


Paris, September 15 - UNESCO has decided it will no longer sponsor nor take part in a conference it had been due to co-organize with the
Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE, Thailand) and The Flinders University Institute of International Education (Australia), in Puttaparthi, India, from September 25 to 29. The decision means UNESCO is no longer associated in any way ­ through sponsorship, organization or participation of any kind ­ with the conference on Strengthening Values Education: Innovative Approaches to Teacher Education for Peace and International Understanding.

UNESCO's withdrawal was prompted by several factors. Certain decisions were taken by the ISSE without consultation, such as plans to hold some of the sessions at the Ashram of the Sathya Sai movement in Puttaparthi, and the inclusion of some speakers in the conference programme without their previous consent. Furthermore, the Organization is deeply concerned about widely-reported allegations of sexual abuse involving
youths and children that have been levelled at the leader of the movement in question, Sathya Sai Baba. Whilst it is not for UNESCO to pronounce itself in this regard, the Organization restates its firm moral and practical commitment to combating the sexual exploitation of children, in application of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires States to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and violence. (This document has been downloaded from www.exbaba.com, section "Letters")

[2] The European Sathya Sai Education Institute (ESSE) is located in Denmark. Its director, T. Meyer, is a top official of the Sai Organisation, namely a Zonal Chairman of the 4th zone (Northern Europe and the countries of the former Eastern Block). The Institute was founded not later than in 1990. The Institute's activity consists in conducting teacher training workshops by a team of international instructors (5-7 people). Now the Institute is going to be reorganised into the Academy.
According to the article from "The Hindu" newspaper the Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE) in Thailand was founded in 1998. Its Indian branch was opened in Bombay in 1999, and its African branch was opened in Zambia in 2000. It is claimed in the article that many countries opened their own branches of this Institute, but no additional information is given.
European ESSE Institute is not mentioned in the article at all ("The Hindu", September 25, 2000, p.15). This fact together with the fact that T. Meyer was not included in the list of key speakers of the Conference might be interpreted as signs of strong competition and struggle for spheres of influence between European (Denmark) and Asian (Thailand) Institutes of Sathya Sai Education.

[3] As follows the text of the declaration adopted by the conference.

Prashanthi Nilayam Declaration   - 29 September 2000  -  Human Values for All through Education

Six hundred and fifty participants from 78 countries gathered in Prashanthi Nilayam in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, India, between 25th-29th September to attend the International Conference on "Strengthening Values Education". The Conference provided a venue for interactive participation during five days, thereby contributing to the development of international networking and information exchange.

The participants are united in their desire and intent to strengthen values education in the world, and agree that in five days it is not possible to thoroughly consider the diversity of all perspectives, cultures, and local conditions affecting the means of accomplishing this important goal. From the diversity of well-considered opinions expressed during the conference, there is unity in belief that all children and youth should have positive values in education.


All children have a right to equal opportunity to receive the best and free education that would bring about good character and human excellence; and,

Human values must be an integral part of all subjects taught in the education systems of the world; and,

All governments should be encouraged to develop and implement laws and policies which enables values in education to be an integral component of teacher education, professional development and student learning experiences; and,

Education in human values, peace, and international understanding should be taught across the entire teacher education curriculum; and,

In order to implement the above, a voluntary network of educators sharing the education goal of human excellence will be established for educators to exchange ideas, experiences and promote values education.

The Prashanthi Nilayam Declaration will be submitted to UNESCO, the United Nations, and other international organisations for further consideration and action.

A fact speaking for itself is that in the EHV hall in the premises of the North Indian (Punjabi) canteen, where sessions of the conference were held, it is enough room only for 200-300 people. So the number of 650 participants mentioned in the declaration seems unbelievably high.

[4] In the field of moral development there are several fundamental theories: (a) cognitive-developmental theory (J. Piaget, L. Kohlberg, etc.); (b) social learning theory (E. Durkheim, B.F. Skinner, etc.); (c) psychoanalytic theory (S. Freud, etc.). Moral education, especially in the frame of schooling, relates in one way or other to some of these theories and may include the following approaches: (1) values clarification; (2) value analysis; (3) set-of-values approach, etc. (Encyclopedia of Education. Pergamon Press, 1985; Encyclopedia of Ethics. St. James Press, 1992). The SSEHV programme can't be internationally acknowledged until it finds its place among existing theories and approaches in moral and values education.

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